After berating Curry County Commissioner Sue Gold for sending a letter with all three board member names on county letterhead to the governor asking her support of a hospital in Brookings, Commissioner Court Boice has sent a letter — with just his name at the top — to the Oregon Senate Health Care Committee in support of an emergency department.
Boice said it shouldn’t be an issue after he heard detractors were saying it was hypocritical, noting the letter he sent had letterhead with only his name at the top and therefore merely represents himself.
“That’s not an issue,” he said. “The issue is, are we going to get emergency medical services in South County? It’s the stages of getting Brookings and South County properly taken care of. If there’s some legitimate issues, let’s work with CHN (Curry Health Network) — give them two years to keep making progress.”
Boice’s letter urges the Oregon Senate Health Care Committee appropriate funds from the state general fund to the state Department of Administrative Services for distribution to the health district here to acquire ambulance services and open the emergency room.
Boice was in Salem Tuesday advocating for Senate Bill 941, which would appropriate money from the state general fund to the Oregon Department of Administrative Services for distribution to Curry Health District to acquire ambulance service for maternity care and opening an emergency room in Brookings.
The bill was headed to the Ways and Means Committee after a workshop in the Senate Health Care Committee April 3.
“I feel really good about it,” Boice said. “Am I predicting passage? Not necessarily. That’s part of my spending the time here to convince them rural Oregon, especially Curry County, deserves some of the same level of financial resource commitments that so much of the metropolitan areas get.”
He said it’s difficult for rural areas to obtain health care providers, as well, which can further delay openings of clinics nationwide.
“Competition for health care providers is intense,” he said. “Everyone else is fighting for those providers.”
He advocates getting an emergency room open, particularly after the string of natural disasters the county has been hit with in the past 10 years.
“No county, no city, like Brookings, has been hit harder,” Boice said. “At one point, we had two emergency declarations to the governor in six weeks.”
Tsunamis, floods, fires and a sinkhole are among them. The most recent was the quarter-mile slide at Hooskanaden, 12 miles north of Brookings, that prevented ambulance traffic from getting to Curry General Hospital in Gold Beach.
Yet controversy roils in South County about which facility would be best.
The South County Health Care Alliance, in which Gold is involved, is promoting creation of a hospital in Brookings so patients don’t have to be transferred twice — from say, their home to an emergency department or three times, from an ER here and then to Curry General Hospital in Gold Beach and possibly on to more definitive care in the state — while the hospital district is proposing to open its long-awaited emergency department.
Boice’s letter said he wrote with great concern for the safety and welfare of Curry County citizens and the county’s second largest employer, Curry Health Network.
“While Curry County is proud of our new hospital, we do need support to implement the long-planned Emergency Room at the Curry Health Network (CHN) facility in Brookings,” he wrote. “The Highway 101 slide of 2019, on top of other natural disasters in the last decade have highlighted the urgency to secure a countywide infrastructure for emergency healthcare services, beyond what is currently available at the hospital in Gold Beach and the Urgent Care Clinic at Curry Medical Center in Brookings.”
Curry Health Network CEO Gini Razo told commissioners last week plans are in the works to open an emergency department and the organization merely awaits state action to do so. Plans are to close the urgent care center, keep the health care clinics at the same location on Fifth Street and open an emergency department. A date has not yet been announced.
Residents told commissioners they were concerned about an array of issues associated with not only the emergency room and hospital debate, but the closure of the urgent care center. Without it, patients will have to make appointments at the clinic to be seen and after hours could be diverted to the emergency room for treatment, which is typically much more expensive.
Some in the audience said the decision was just a way for CHN to cull more money from South County residents, as ER patients needing hospitalization would be transferred to the hospital in Gold Beach.
Those wanting to be transferred to Sutter Coast Hospital in Crescent City, California, would have to work out payment with their insurance companies as CHN has worked out a contract with Cal-Ore ambulance to transport patients north.
Boice cited in his letter numerous disasters that have befallen the Brookings area in recent years, including the tsunami in 2011, a sinkhole in Harbor that delayed traffic heading south to California, the Chetco Bar and Klondike wildfires of 2017 and 2018 and most recently, the Hooskanaden Slide 12 miles north of Brookings that diverted emergency patients to Sutter Coast.
Curry Medical Center lost thousands of dollars in the two weeks the quarter-mile of U.S. 101 was out, as traffic was diverted over the steep, winding and narrow Carpenterville Road.
“This left a critical emergency medical void for citizens in Gold Beach,” Boice noted.
He also said “someone” suggested that “as Curry Health Network moves forward to open the South County Emergency Room, maybe they don’t need the additional funding.” Boice noted that statement is false and noted the high cost of opening even a small hospital.
“A four-bed hospital — that’s almost $2 million a bed,” he said. “Where’s that going to come from? Much less the two or three years of planning to get a second hospital in Brookings. Give them a little bit of time to pull it together.”